Sunday 8 July 2018

Not that White City; the Ukrainian one!

I left off the last post just as the train was pulling into the sonorous sounding city of Bilhorod-Dnistrovs'kyi - literally 'White city on the Dniester'. The couchette lady had handed me down the extremely high steps, and there I was standing on the railway lines. No panic, nearby there was a group of gentlemen gathered on the lines having a beer and smoke.

A few people got off the train and they looked beach ready. As it was only around midday I wondered whether I would regretting not bringing swimming stuff. I followed people into the station to check out timetables. As you can see, they were as clear as mud. After previous experience with Russian trains, I know you had to be bang on time to leap aboard. I kept in mind that there was a bus option and decided not to panic.

I was also hungry.

The shape of this city was intriguing. Laid out in the form of a ‘goose foot’, all straight roads converged at the fort, in the uppermost point of the rough triangle shape. The peninsula makes for perfect defence, evidence that this town has seen some serious military action; in turn it has been Roman, Italian, Moldavian, Bulgarian, Turkish and Russian. I mentioned to my writer friend that it deserved some literary attention, preferably from a writer with a gory/romantic imagination. I can’t do it justice but I was very taken with the town and its many peaceful green parks, and the hustle-bustle of the market.

 As I got closer to the fort I realised that perhaps my notion of a quiet day researching and writing was misplaced - certainly no pavement cafes with WiFi were to be seen. 

Who cares? I immediately felt happy and welcomed by this place, and decided that any return to Ukraine would be based here. It is relaxed and rural, where people can be themselves. Odessa is a city where there appears to be pressure to look well groomed at all times. I can try to do that in Split or London! As I ambled around, admiring monuments in the park, it was freeing and lovely. Although it may seem like the point of the trip, I had no interest in exploring the huge exposed fortress. The external towers, castle and battlements were enough - also the aerial view showed a large expanse of internal green space. I’ve done enough castles in my time. 

I was still hungry, and decided lunch was long overdue.

Ukrainian food has been one of the biggest surprises. It can only be described as tasty, natural, flavoursome and varied. I’ve had fish in some form pretty much every day, but it has been fresh, smoked, pate, in jars, in oils, raw... herring, mullet, salmon, roe, prawn, shells, ‘monastery’ fish. On this trip, my early dinner was borsch, dill and onion summer salad with grilled grey mullet and garlicky potato wedges. Washed down with a pint of beer. I’m slightly regretful I didn’t have the local wine, but there you go, an excuse to go back. All for less than a tenner.

The waitress was bemused and laughed at my efforts with google translate and the menu. But at least I knew exactly what I was getting!

The food’s rich flavours lingered as I waddled off to find the water’s edge. My map told me I only had to head down the hill...and there it was! A sunny Sunday afternoon is perfect for fishing so the lake was a quiet haven for chaps and their rods. I sat there for a while on an old stone wall, watching the birds, admiring the old ships and deciphering their names; ‘Nadir’ and ‘Akkerman’. The children around were lively, especially when they spotted little water snakes ... these curious creatures hung in the water, holding their heads out high. Sitting next to water is wonderful, whether lake, sea or river. Especially when you’re too fat to move!

It occurred to me mid-snooze that I still had no idea about how I was getting home. Curious about what a grown up recommended, I sent one a text. Turns out she was by the sea too...but luckily had signal. She informed me that her google said the next train back was 6am. The following morning.



Clearly this is an argument as to why you should never listen to adults. I had access to better information with the photo of the dubious timetable but still wasn’t 100% certain. Refusing to panic, I ambled off in search of a coffee and some WiFi. More parks and military monuments, with some serious ammunition provided interest along the way. I thought my nephew would appreciate a vlog so made a recording, showing him the guns. 

Eventually I found a rather gracious cafe, with the waiter laying on purple silk table cloths, fine china and chocolate accoutrements. It was all quite daunting. Still the americano with hot milk was lovely, and I finally had WiFi. The view was stunning - I liked this place a lot.


By 4pm I decided that I would head back to the town’s travel hub and see whether I’d be having a difficult conversation with work come Monday morning. It was again a pleasant stroll, along another straight road lined with plane trees...the huge potholes were like craters, and the rain water had collected in them turning the streets into green and gold mirrors. I was in a bubble of balance and calm as I followed the map to the bus station. Turns out it was located at the front of the train station - but all buses were mini vans. There was no ticket office but I could have tried my luck at lotto.

I peered round at the board in the front windscreen: ОДЕССА. Perfect. I asked the man in charge - clearly identifiable by the way he was shouting at people putting cases in the boot and clutching a roll of notes - how much to Odessa. 55 bracelets*. Or £1.50. Ok bargain I thought as I scrambled on to the monumentally packed sweaty-already bus, and found a seat at the back. You can only imagine my dismay that the final place - next to me - was taken by a vast sweating individual with man-spreading issues. It was going to get hotter in here, as I attempted futilely to take up only 5cm of my seat.

I started to think longingly of my fictional air-conditioned limo.

The journey back was slow and hotly damp. Occasionally a trickle of sweat danced down my bum-crack**; least it had room to move, and I envied it its agility. The countryside again distracted me with its beauty - who needs Tuscany when you have fields and fields of sunflowers and grapes in this vast paradise? We arrived in town at about seven, and I made my way home, pausing for evening sunlight in my favourite parks. I dallied - I was torn; the thought of peeling off my clothes and burning them as soon as possible was tempting. But I was putting off - with rather perverse anticipation - that blissful moment of standing under a cool shower.

It felt as good as anticipated when I was freshly showered and scented. What an amazingly rewarding day, sometimes you’ve just got to make the effort, no matter how frustrating it seems. Least I know where Odessa bus station is now - and how to buy a train ticket!

*hryvnia - love that Bulgarian and Serbian have grivna (гривна, "bracelet")
**bum-related heat not helped by the dose of sunburn on the previous day, occasioned by my love of nudist beaches.

No comments:

Post a Comment